The Tanks: Art in Action

Another art adventure from the last time I was in London, this time Tate Modern‘s new space and fifteen-week performance event festival ‘The Tanks: Art in Action’. Again, my timing back in the UK has meant I have been able to catch so many fantastic, once in a lifetime, cultural (and sporting!) events. It was the second day since it’s opening and I’d already read and heard so many positive words about it within that 48 hour period…even getting a sneaky glimpse of its interior during another visit earlier that week. Needless to say, I was excited to see what it had to offer and I was not disappointed. I was accompanied by my good London friend, photographer Phillip Reed (who I initially met in Shanghai in the Autumn of last year). He very kindly took a photograph of me as I was documenting The Tanks so I could put it on my blog. I actually have hardly any images of me “in action”…I should try to change that somehow as it gives you, the reader, more of an idea as to what and how I physically engage with the world, and what I look like! So I must credit the first two photographs in this post to Phillip. Thank you.

As you enter The Tanks from the right-hand-side of the Turbine Hall ramp, you are immediately confronted by the beautifully brutal, imposing, harsh, angular concrete walls of the industrial tunnel that leads you to the main concourse area of the tanks…you are enclosed by smooth versus rough textured concrete pillars and beams that tower over you…you can’t help but touch, stroke and brush your hands over their surface as you move deeper underground…all lit by intensely false strip lighting that is in part overbearing and almost clinical. There was an air of excited engagement in the public as they queued for the performance event and wandered between the different spaces. Before you even entered The Tanks, you already know it is going to be such a different viewing experience. A gallery or space with no windows and with a circular walled structure has such incredible creative and design potential as you are forced, spatially and curatorially, to work in different ways. I love it but then I do love brutalism.

A new acquisition by Tate is Suzanne Lacy’s ‘The Crystal Quilt’, the culmination of the Whisper Minnesota Project, a three-year public artwork empowering and giving a voice to 430 women over the age of 60 who gathered to share their views on growing older. The resulting performance, as shown here in different documentary formats, was broadcast live on television and attended by over 3,000 people. It now exists in the form of a video, documentary, quilt, photographs and sound piece, combining the original elements of performance, activism and broadcast in “an ambitious work that fuses social responsibility with the power of aesthetics”. It cleverly represents the diverse ethnic and social backgrounds of those who took part alongside their life experience and achievements, forming “an active comment on the representation of older women in the media”. The way in which the audio was presented in the tubular space with intense red lighting was particularly powerful, more so when you could negotiate the space and listen on your own. I wanted to be left sitting cross-legged on the round black cushion to take it in.

Another facet to The Tanks is their live performance series. Phillip and I just managed to catch the 3pm performance on the 19th July of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker‘s work ‘Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich’ – “Violin Phase” that lasted for 16 minutes. From 1982, it is considered to be the starting point of the contemporary dance movement that developed in Flanders during the 1980s. For virtually the whole time, I stood on my ballet tip toes, smiling at the raw qualities of the dance, viewing above the crowds of people that were seated and standing around the square performance area. You were not allowed to take photographs as it was happening, which was a real shame. The performance saw a dancer repeatedly negotiate a chalk circle that was marked out on the polished concrete floor, where by the end of the 16 minutes she had virtually wiped out the chalk line with the touch of her feet and hands. It felt as though the circle often referenced the construct of time, the limitations of time, short-lived experiences and  of life. The music heightened the viewing experience as it was, like the choreography, repetitive in part, building with such great intensity and energy. I wanted to stand in the centre of the circle with my eyes closed and let the performance take place around me…like I was at the centre of time, unable to make it stop or move faster, like I was frozen as part of the experience, frozen in time, in my life. This work explored the relationship between music and dance and aimed to articulate the basic principles of the musical composition rather than allowing the dance to simply illustrate the music.

One of the key works and new commissions on display is by the Korean artist Sung Hwan Kim. His practice is interdisciplinary, working with video and performance art, taking on the role of a director, editor, performer, composer, narrator and poet, collecting and collaging encounters, sounds, sculptural elements and images from his changing homes of Seoul, Amsterdam and New York. For Tate, he has created a visually and technologically immersive environment, inspired by artists such as Joan Jonas, alongside his personal cultural influences from Korea, his work is a unique form of story-telling. There is a really good documentary video of an interview with the artist on The Tanks webpage here. I particularly liked the way in which there were different ways to engage in the artist’s installation, either through group viewing environments, personal listening and viewing booths, headphones, seating and standing areas, some with low ceilings, some with high. This constant spatial change kept you questioning with a wanted anticipation of what else there was to see.

I can’t wait to see more of what The Tanks has to offer over the coming weeks and months. I hope to catch Hetain Patel’s ‘Me and Me Dad and Me Wife’ as I included his work as part of a group show called \”home\” I curated back in 2010. It is on the 17th August literally before I leave for Shanghai. We will see whether I can squeeze in another London visit. I think I’ve spent half of my UK time in London and the rest back in the Midlands. It seems I need city living…and I think it indicates that I’m actually missing Shanghai a lot more than I thought. Thankfully there’s experiences like The Tanks to keep me going until I head back.

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